Directed by Andrew Arena
New Volunteer Commission
Deploys Veteran Crime Fighters
"I try to have hope every day," said Andrew G. Arena, former agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit office and newly appointed executive director of the Detroit Crime Commission, in his March 19 talk to the Eastside Republican Forum in Grosse Pointe Farms.
He said the DCC focus is quality of life, and creation of an "atmosphere of no corruption," including crime investigation, abatement/abandonment issues, public corruption, and witness protection.
He noted, "I was encouraged when the Kwame Kilpatrick jury convicted the former mayor of racketeering, which is tough to prove -- that jury really worked hard."
"Right then and there, I thought, 'there is hope.'"
Arena ticked off some of Detroit's challenges. In mortgage fraud Detroit ranks second in the country, police suffer from a misuse of manpower and lack of leadership, and in one four-square-mile area violators with 600 active arrest warrants live and walk the streets unchallenged.
He declared, "Fix the Detroit police department."
Arena said that in the 1960s, the Detroit department was considered the best in the country with the highest homicide closure rate in the nation.
He said that other cities, like New York, came here to learn. Unfortunately, today many policemen feel "nobody cares."
"Anyway you look at it, Detroit should be better," he said.
Insurance Fraud Investigation
Arena described the DCC's work to stop a ring of insurance fraudsters operating "under the radar" in southwest Detroit. Their "business" involved buying 159 foreclosed houses in disrepair, renting them to illegal aliens -- who were afraid to complain -- never repairing the houses, and then torching them after the houses could no longer be rented.
Their final payoff was a claim against their insurance policy for the fire loss. The case uncovered tax evasion and 213 fraudulent house fire insurance claims.
Buried in the details was crime that is even more sordid. Arena said the head fraudster was also reported to be molesting underage girls in his upstairs office.
Rape Evidence Backlog
Arena explained that the DCC has helped to launch an attack on Detroit's backlog of unprocessed evidence in nearly 12,000 rape cases. Some of the crime evidence had been neglected for 20 years in a now-abandoned storage facility.
He said that working with Wayne County prosecutor Kim Worthy, the DCC helped to facilitate random processing of the first 400 rape kits, which yielded identified serial rapists and repeat offenders.
Further progress is now possible, as experienced DCC staffers have negotiated a reduced cost for rape kit processing from $1,500 down to $450 per test, according to Arena.
The DCC has established an "electronic net" over certain neighborhoods, tracking gang members. It uses Facebook and Twitter to spot activity by those who publicly plan and boast about their crimes on those electronic social networks!
One gang member threatening members of a rival gang as he drove the freeway to the Detroit Freedom Festival was tracked using the phone's geospatial locator. When he arrived, the police were waiting for him.
Putting his work in perspective, Arena said, "People say to me, 'You're the solution,' but I say, 'We're part of the solution moving the city forward.'"
Arena said that another part of the solution is The Youth Connection, a nonprofit offering life skills training to at risk kids in the Osborn High School area of Detroit. Arena was happy to report that, so far, 21 have graduated from the program with 19 going on to college and two joining the military.
He said that work is underway to restore Department of Justice grants lost due to misuse, and to direct more funds through faith-based groups as well as to police, and anti-gang work.
"So there's hope, and opportunities to make a difference," he said.
Law enforcement is frustrated as fear makes many witnesses reluctant to supply information needed for criminal apprehension. He said they don't fear the police, but they fear being murdered in retaliation.
He believes that people see him on TV and come to the DCC with information on what they've witnessed because they desperately want crime to stop, and their families to be safe.
So, partnering with the Wayne County, a safeguard program to protect key witnesses has been established.
Arena said he now goes into communities and neighborhoods in Detroit and is "amazed at what people bring us -- people coming up and telling us everything!"
No Cost to Taxpayers
Arena said the DCC accomplishes its mission with a staff of seven paid employees, including a four-member investigative staff, all former law enforcement officers, plus a team of volunteers and legal interns from U-D Mercy School of Law.
“Our goal is to fill the gap law enforcement agencies are not getting to and working with community leaders to bridge those gaps. We are looking at criminal enterprises flying under the radar -- insurance fraud, mortgage fraud,” Arena recently told the Detroit Legal News.
Of the nonprofit commission, Arena said, “We are privately funded through private donors and grant proposals. We're not costing the taxpayers any money."
He added, "The Detroit Crime Commission is a 501(c)(3), mostly watchdog organization. Donors can pick the area of activity to which they wish to contribute."
"The Cotton family was one of the first, along with the Nicholson family and others, stepping forward to help us in these vital areas."
Federal Agent Turned Private Investigator
Arena, 50, was born in Dearborn and raised in Detroit. He earned a BA in 1985 from Central Michigan University, and studied in England at Cambridge University. In 1988, he received his Juris Doctorate from the U of D School of Law.
After nearly two decades of service with the FBI, Arena was designated assistant special agent in charge of the Detroit FBI office in 2001, where he oversaw counter terrorism and counterintelligence initiatives.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Arena became chief of the International Terrorism Operations Section at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. The following year, he was assigned to the director's office as special assistant to the executive assistant director for counter terrorism and counterintelligence.
In 2004, he became special agent in charge of the FBI's New York office with responsibility for all New York criminal investigations. Arena assumed his final FBI post in 2007 as special agent in charge of the Detroit office.
Then in 2012 he was offered another position in Washington, but turned it down to stay in Detroit, retiring from the FBI to become DCC director.
Expressing a passion for his work here, Arena said, "I stayed here for my family, because I want them to grow up where I grew up, but I want this to be a better place."
The Eastside Republican Club Forum is normally held on the third Tuesday of the month from September through June. Admission is free and the public is always welcome.